HUMAN judges may hand down sentences that are unfair or unduly severe but not so with Jehovah God—“a lover of justice.” (Psalm 37:28) Although patient, he is not indulgent. He is firm for what is right. Consider how he responded to a case of quarreling and rebellion, as recorded in Numbers chapter 20.
Near the end of their wilderness trek, the Israelites faced a water shortage. The people began quarreling with Moses and Aaron, saying: “Why have you men brought Jehovah’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts of burden to die there?” (Verse 4) The people complained that the wilderness was an “evil place” that had no “figs and vines and pomegranates”—the very fruit that Israelite spies had brought back from the Promised Land years before—and that there was “no water to drink.” (Verse 5; Numbers 13:23) They were, in effect, blaming Moses and Aaron because the wilderness was not like the fruitful land that an earlier generation of murmurers had refused to enter!
Jehovah did not reject the murmurers. Instead, he directed Moses to do three things: take his rod, gather the people, and “speak to the crag before their eyes that it [might] indeed give its water.” (Verse 8) Moses obeyed the first two directives, but he failed to be obedient in the third matter. Rather than speak in faith to the rock, he spoke in bitterness to the people, saying: “Hear, now, you rebels! Is it from this crag that we shall bring out water for you?” (Verse 10; Psalm 106:32, 33) Then Moses struck the rock twice, “and much water began to come out.”—Verse 11.
Moses, along with Aaron, thereby committed a serious sin. “You men rebelled against my order,” God said to them. (Numbers 20:24) By going against God’s order on this occasion, Moses and Aaron became what they accused the people of being—rebels. God’s judgment was clear: Moses and Aaron would not lead Israel into the Promised Land. Was the sentence too severe? No, for a number of reasons.
First, God had not directed Moses to speak to the people, let alone adjudge them rebels. Second, Moses and Aaron failed to glorify God. “You did not . . . sanctify me,” God said. (Verse 12) By saying “we shall bring out water,” Moses spoke as if he and Aaron—not God—were the providers of miraculous water.
Third, the sentence was consistent with past judgments. God had denied the earlier generation of rebels entrance into Canaan, so he did the same with Moses and Aaron. (Numbers 14:22, 23) Fourth, Moses and Aaron were Israel’s leaders. Those with much responsibility have greater accountability to God.—Luke 12:48.
Jehovah is firm for what is right. Because he loves justice, he is incapable of handing down sentences that are unfair or unjust. Clearly, such a Judge deserves our trust and respect.
After the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were poised to enter Canaan, the land that God had promised to Abraham. But when ten spies brought back a bad report, the people murmured against Moses. Jehovah thus decreed that they had to spend 40 years in the wilderness—enough time for the rebellious generation to die off.